As someone who regularly does voiceover work and records podcasts, I need a setup that allows me to easily record on a whim. Any modern Mac could work for this setup, but I’m especially fond of the 12″ MacBook with its USB-C port. That single port, which handles data transfer, power, and display output, helps to simplify my configuration because all it requires is one cable to get started.
In this post, I’d like to share with you my setup for voiceovers and podcasting. What you’ll find is a rig that’s extremely easy to use and happens to look decent as well.
By now, most of you know that I recently adopted a 2016 Retina MacBook. Although arguably underpowered, this machine features several advantages that make it ideal for voiceover work and podcasting.
The biggest advantage is one I highlighted in my initial MacBook impressions — silent operation. Fans can be a hinderance to good voiceover work, and since the MacBook has no fans, it’s an ideal computer for this type of work.
Granted, it is possible to eliminate most noise in post with an app like Final Cut Pro X or Logic Pro X, but the cleaner the input, the better.
No fans means no noise
Another advantage that the MacBook has over other Macs is its USB-C port. Some may consider that single port to be a limitation, but I like to look at its advantages. This single port allows me to connect to my display, which happens to serve as a hub. Thus, I’m instantly ready to record just by plugging in a single USB-C cable.
USB-C connectivity with the MacBook isn’t perfect, but being able to connect to LG’s 27UD88-W 4K monitor with a single cable is a huge win. While this combo works great as a general USB hub, it’s not very good when it comes to transfer speeds.
As I explained in my review, any device connected to the display’s hub will transfer data at USB 2.0 speeds. In a nutshell, this means that you won’t be able to enjoy high speed USB 3.0 data transfer between your MacBook and devices connected to the monitor’s USB ports.
That may not be a big deal for some of you, and as far as my podcasting and voiceover setup goes, it doesn’t require high speed data transfer to make it work. The point is that USB-C still has some kinks to work out, and until we get ThunderBolt 3 support, there will be compromises when it comes to connectivity.
In his massive Podcasting Microphones Mega-Review, Marco Arment recommended Audio-Technica’s ATR-2100-USB dynamic microphone as the fourth pick on his list. As much as I like Audio-Technica’s headphones, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy its microphones.
As someone on a relatively small budget, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try this microphone as it comes in at less than $80 on Amazon and has a massive amount of good reviews.
The ATR-2100-USB is a great-sounding microphone with XLR and USB output options
I have to say that I’m positively surprised at how wonderful this microphone sounds. I disagree with Marco’s sentiments on not needing a pop-filter (at least opt for a windscreen), but I agree with him on pretty much everything else. This microphone sounds extraordinary if you keep your mouth close to it, and does a good job of rejecting off-axis sounds and background noise.
What makes this microphone even more wonderful is that it’s so versatile. Not only can it be connected directly to your Mac via USB, but it can also be connected to an audio interface via XLR. The USB connectivity even features a headphone input for real time monitoring.
Usually, when you buy a product that gives you this many options, quality is sacrificed in some areas. But I don’t find that to be the case here. It features decent build quality for a sub-$100 microphone, and both its USB and XLR modes sound good. Of course, USB connectivity won’t sound as clean as going through a quality audio interface with XLR, but it’s definitely workable and gives new users a higher ceiling for growth.
The Audio-Technica ATR-2100-USB comes with everything you need to get started, including an XLR cable, USB cable, stand, and microphone holder. The stock items will work in a pinch, but if you’re going to be doing voice work on a regular basis, you should invest in a more permanent setup.
I highly recommend adding a microphone boom arm to your desk. Microphone booms can easily attach to most desks, and allow you to adjust the location and position of the microphone on the fly. It’s going to give you the flexibility that you just can’t get from a table stand.
There are tons of microphone booms on Amazon in all sorts of price ranges. Previously, I used a Rode PSA1; it’s nice and gets the job done well.
The m!ka is a beautiful microphone boom arm
That said, these types of microphone boom arms don’t look very good in my opinion, and if you’ve ever accidentally pinched yourself between the two metal bars on the boom, you know how painful that can be.
As someone starting with a new setup, I didn’t really want to go back down that route. Instead, I opted for the m!ka microphone boom arm from a German company called Yellowtec. This arm is made of aluminum, and it’s just one piece with an embedded XLR cable. It features adjustable knobs on each joint for setting the ideal position of the boom.
Make no mistake, this arm is a luxury, probably the only real luxury item in my entire setup. But as someone who uses a microphone for voice work on a daily basis, I appreciate its good looks and function. Plus, I love the embedded XLR cable, which serves to keep my desk nice and neat looking.
USB connectivity is nice for those just starting out, but if you’re serious about voice work, you should consider going with a dedicated audio interface. The interface acts as a middle man between your Mac and your microphone, and will provide your recording app with a clean boosted signal from your microphone.
I’ve had really good experiences with Mackie over the years, so I opted for its Onyx Blackjack mixer. I’ve had much larger Mackie mixers in the past, but I wanted something small for my new setup. Mackie’s Onyx preamps sound great and have always treated me well, and the same preamps are included in the $99 Onyx Blackjack.
Built like a tank, the Mackie Onyx Blackjack delivers clean sound and features ideal cable routing
Not only do the Onyx preamps sound clean, but Mackie’s hardware is all metal and built to last. Speaking of build, I value the fact that the XLR inputs are located on the back of the mixer, which allows for a cleaner looking setup. Most popular tabletop mixers these days, such as Focusrite’s popular Scarlett line, place XLR inputs on the front of the mixer.
Monitoring your voice plays a big role in producing good sounding voice work. As someone who enjoyed these headphones in a recent review, it probably comes as no surprise that I use Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50x’s for real time monitoring. These headphones plug directly into the Onyx Blackjack mixer and allow me to monitor my voice and the sound coming from my Mac.
The ATH-M50x is well-respected for a reason
Although I prefer the overall sound quality of my KEF Egg speakers, Kanto’s YU5 bookshelf speakers bring added flexibility to my setup. These speakers have a more traditional design, and feature several connectivity options including Bluetooth.
The Kanto YU5 delivers good sound, flexible input options, and beautiful design
I especially like the fact that the YU5’s can connect to my mixer via a simple TRS to RCA cable. This allows me to port sound directly from the mixer to the speakers. I’ll have more about these speakers in a future weekend post once I’m able to break them in more, but I love the matte white finish, which goes great with my white standing desk.
For voice work and podcasts I use Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X. Both apps contain great voice recording features. Final Cut Pro X, in particular, is something I use on a daily basis for video work. The app features a simple built-in voiceover tool that comes with several handy features that makes doing voice work a breeze.
Final Cut Pro X is so good that sometimes I’ll just use it to record audio, even if I’m not doing anything related to video. It even has several effects built-in that are borrowed straight from Logic Pro X.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. Combined together my entire setup isn’t cheap, but the most important parts of the setup — the microphone and mixer — are relatively inexpensive. In fact, you could purchase the microphone, mixer and a wind screen for less than $200. All of the other items included are basically just nice-to-haves.
Of all of the parts of my setup, I have to say that I’m super-impressed with Audio-Technica’s ATR-2100-USB microphone. It’s hard to believe that you can get such great-sounding results without needing to spend an arm and a leg.
I’ll be back with follow up posts showing how I put each of these tools to work to do voiceovers and podcasts.
In the meantime, what are your thoughts on my setup? How do you think it looks and sounds?